The Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Institute for Government have been working in partnership for six years on the Engaging with Government programme – a three-day course for researchers in the arts and humanities. This programme helps academics develop the knowledge and skills they need to engage effectively with government and parliamentary bodies at all levels, along with the other organisations involved in the policy-making process. We, in turn, have learned a huge amount from our participants, who now form an active alumni network brimming with expertise about how to engage with policy in practice. This guide brings together some of that learning.
Arts and humanities researchers tend to have fewer formal and established routes into government than scientists. But they can, and do, engage productively in policy making. They contribute both expertise (advice based on knowledge of a field) and evidence (facts and information) and provide new ways of framing policy debates that draw on philosophical, cultural or historical perspectives.
As this guide shows, there are steps that academics can take to improve their engagement with public policy and to make it meaningful for their research. While these activities may involve an investment of time, they offer the opportunity to make a tangible difference, and are often a source of great satisfaction and inspiration for further work.
The first part of this guide describes the landscape of policy making in the UK and some of the common ways academics can engage with it.
Part two sets out six lessons from the Engaging with Government programme, illustrated with practical examples from our alumni and speaker network. These lessons are:
- Understand the full range of individuals and groups involved in policy making – who are the key players and who do they talk to?
- Be aware of the political context – how does your research fit in with current thinking on the issue?
- Communicate in ways that policy makers find useful – consider your audience and be prepared to make practical recommendations.
- Develop and maintain networks – seek to make connections with people who share your policy interest, both in person and online.
- Remember that you are the expert – be prepared to share your general knowledge of a subject as well as your specific research.
- Adopt a long-term perspective – you will need to be open-minded and patient to engage successfully.